Saturdays are anything but dull at the Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz and Performing Arts.
With an array of jazz and music classes that go on throughout the day, the instructors and participants keep busy.
With the purpose of bringing music and the history of jazz to young children and community, the venue located at 738 South Broad St., hosts classes throughout the week and all day on Saturdays.
Members of the #274 Black musicians’ union founded the historic music organization in 1966. Since then the organization has developed and is now a place where many young children turn for music and culture.
Children in all age groups attend the Clef Club’s classes to learn how to play instruments like the saxophone, piano, drums, trumpet and a variety of string instruments.
Music educator and musician Lovett Hines, director of music education at the Clef Club, has a long history of teaching music.
Hines started the program years ago with just two students and is now proud of the growth and the way the music classes run.
He is also proud of the number of former students that have gone on to make successful music careers. Hines listed James “Kamal” Gray of The Roots as an example.
“One of the philosophies I tell the parents when the students come to us is I’m not really looking at them to get the same music instruction they get at school — I’m trying to really create little artists,” Hines said. “So we approach it from a different point.”
One of the guidelines within the music education program is to emphasize African-American, classical jazz music.
“For the first songs, instead of playing ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ we play something by Thelonious Monk or something like that,” he said. “Then we harp on different musical forms that relate to our music.”
The music education program at the Clef Club has outreach programs with schools in the city. One of the schools they work with is Kenny Gamble’s Universal Institute Charter School at 1415 Catharine St. The club now has an instrumental music program with the school, where students come into the Clef Club for lessons once a week.
Program participants range in age but the influx of youth has inspired parents to get involved. Hines has seen trends of mothers and fathers, bringing their children for lessons, and then signing up for lessons themselves.
The day consists of private lessons, ensemble practices and critique sessions where different ensembles discuss recent performances and ways to improve. Music is booming on each floor of the building on Saturdays, and children like Madon Seapoe, eight years old, take on the drums and use the Clef Club as a space to completely let loose.
Maurice Carter, father to Solomon Carter, 15, and Laura Carter, 11, is grateful for the organization’s music program. Carter finds that his children really enjoy the program and it helps them stay active while learning new instruments. Solomon plays the drums and Laura plays the violin.
“It really helped them to develop mentally,” Carter said. “They really enjoy the music.”
Along with school programs and music classes, the Clef Club has a partnership with Berklee College of Music in Boston.
Berklee offers the organization scholarships for Berklee’s summer program to a select few students from their senior program. They receive $5,000; and if they’re a senior and decide to go to Berklee for college they are eligible to receive $10,000, Hines said.
Don Gardner, managing director of the Clef Club, feels it’s important for the youth to engage in jazz music and its history.
“Frankly music is what it’s about, and the main thing here is they are taught by working musicians,” he said. “Our first goal is music — they have to learn it, know it and get the history of it.”
The Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz & Performing Arts, Inc. and its board of directors recently announced the inaugural "Philadelphia Clef Club Jazz Awards," taking place at 8 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 3 at the Clef Club, 736-38 S. Broad St.
Adopting the theme "Preserving, Presenting and Educating," the Clef Club Jazz Awards will "recognize Philadelphia musicians and performing artists through a nomination and selection process made available to the general public."
"We're going to honor, recognize and salute artists who have demonstrated a commitment to jazz music and the legacy it has in Philadelphia," said Sid Lucas, Chairman of the Clef Club Jazz Awards Committee.
"What inspired us is that we wanted to do something for the Clef Club, and we wanted to do something for the artists who come through here all the time — the musicians who are housed here. Initially we were attempting to have a cultivational reception so that we could attract some supporters of the Clef Club, but then we said, 'Well what about the other end of it?' And the other end of it was the musicians who really make jazz come alive here in Philadelphia. You know that Philadelphia has a rich tradition and legacy in terms of jazz music, and what better place to do it than the Clef Club?" So we said, 'Let's honor them. Let's do our first Clef Club Jazz Awards,' and we hope that this will be our signature annual event."
The general public is encouraged to nominate jazz artists in numerous categories by using the ballot posted at www.clefclubofjazz.org.
"We're looking to honor performing artists who are either from Philadelphia or affiliated with Philadelphia," Lucas explained. "So they can actually live in New York and be working in New York, but as long as they're from Philadelphia, they'll be fine. Or they can live in New Jersey, but if they're playing consistently with a band in Philadelphia, then we would consider that." Lucas says that the deadline for nominations is October 10.
In addition, Dr. Bernard Watson and entrepreneur John Dawkins will receive "Distinguished Jazz Honorees" awards for their "continued contribution and support of the arts and education," while saxophonist Bootsie Barnes will receive the Living Legend award for his contribution as a performing artist.
A highlight of the evening will an appearance by Board President Dr. Constance E. Clayton, who will address the audience regarding the status and new direction of the Clef Club. Also in the spotlight will be a performance by the talented Student Ensemble under the direction of Lovett Hines, as well as an impromptu jam session featuring the evening's winners. Light refreshments will be served.
General admission tickets for the Clef Club Awards are $45 for non-members and $35.00 for members. VIP tickets, which include an exclusive reception at 6 p.m., are available for $100.00. For tickets and information call (215) 893-9912 or visit www.clefclubofjazz.org and click on the event link.
Yesseh Furaha-Ali, a 16-year-old jazz saxophonist, is spending his summer at the Berklee College of Music Performance Program on July 7 through August 10. During this prestigious five-week program, Yesseh will study under Berklee percussion professor, Terri Lyne Carrington, who has toured for more than 20 years with Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock and Dianne Reeves. Carrington was also the house musician for the Arsenio Hall Show, Quincy Jones late night TV show and VIBE hosted by Sinbad.
Recommended by his teacher, Lovett Hines of the Philadelphia Clef Club, Yesseh was accepted to play with other young musicians from across the country and from 70 countries around the world. He will also have the opportunity to audition for the approximately $3.5 million in scholarships that are awarded to the five-week students.
“We have a partnership with Berklee,” Hines said. “Each year there is a search from all the partners around the country to recommend students who are persistent in our program, shown a steady growth and development and have strong improvisation skills. Yesseh met all those criteria. He takes lessons here on a steady basis, he’s a part of our ensemble program and over the years he has developed.”
The summer program—which is in its 26th year—offers a comprehensive study of performance in jazz, pop/rock, funk/fusion and pop/R&B instrumental and vocal styles.
“I just want to learn how to be more independent,” Yesseh said. “I want to know the business of music. And as a person who wants to pursue music as a career, I want to know how it will take me even father in my career.
Yesseh is a 2012 recipient of the Young Artist Study-Grant Program—which is a partnership of The University of the Arts and The Marian Anderson Award. In May, he was selected for membership to The National Society of High School Scholars.
His musical interests began at home. While his mother jammed to the large collection of jazz tunes in the house, his father played the djembe drum, flute and harmonica, and his siblings participated in the school band playing drums and other woodwind instruments.
“All the musicians I knew, I introduced him to,” Nashid Furaha-Ali, Yesseh’s father said. “He’s been around music all his young life.”
“My first influence was jazz,” Yesseh said. “The first jazz recording I listened to my father hooked me onto it. John Coltrane’s ‘Love Supreme.’ ”
As the youngest of seven children, Yesseh is an avid jazz enthusiast. He said his favorite musicians include Coltrane, Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Benny Webster, Dexter Gordan, Sunny Stit, Sunny Rollins, Charlie Parker and Cannonball Adleigh.
“I used to listen to a lot of Ray Charles when I was little,” Yesseh said. “And what really got me playing the saxophone was that I saw the movie ‘Ray’. I saw the saxophone playing. I thought it was a beautiful instrument to play. I thought that sound was really mellow.”
At eight-years-old, Yeseeh picked up one of his brother’s saxophones and began playing. Now as an 11th-grader at Upper Darby High School, Yesseh plays the soprano, alto and tenor saxophone, bass and B flat clarinet and piano. He also sings and writes music.
“He plays a little bit of funk, but his specialty is jazz,” Nashid said. “From my perspective, jazz is the African American classical music. If you’re going to play music, you’re going to play the classical music. He can play other genres, but jazz is what he likes.”
Yesseh has played at LaRose Jazz Club, Tuttleman School of Music, Kimmel Center for Performing Arts, Chris’ Jazz Café and West Oak Lane Jazz Festival.
Upset by the canceling of the West Oak Lane Jazz Festival this year, Yesseh said it was his favorite venues.
“It meant a lot to me because I started playing at the [festival] when I was 11,” Yesseh said. “And ever since then, I’ve been playing at it every year. How many places in the city have a good jazz vibe? To not have the West Oak Lane, it breaks my heart.”
He has also traveled to several venues in Washington, D.C, Baltimore, New York and New Jersey.
With plans to attend Temple University, Manhattan School of Music, New York University or Oberlin College, Yesseh encourages other young musicians.
“Be patient,” Yesseh said. “If you’re trying to keep going, you can’t rush things. Just do you and feel you. Just stick with [music] because at the end of the day, it will help you out and it will take you somewhere.”